In the year 1829, the metropolitan police force was established. Prior to this, law enforcement had been ‘lacking in organisation’ (ibid). London’s population grew exponentially between the 18th and 19th centuries, which initiated difficulties in coordination and control.
Initially society was policed by parliament; effectively the King himself (source). This proved ineffective due to the large numbers of people. Through the Metropolitan Police Act (1829), the role of local policing was thus outsourced to a new force, which effectively required the central hub (parliament) to relinquish aspects of its power, all in the name of protecting coordination and control. There were 17 divisions in London, each of which had four inspectors and 144 constables. This was done to stabilise threats to society (source).
More power to small groups, faster and easier decision-making, decentralising power, increased coordination over a large scale of space and time – what does this sound like? Oh yeah, the internet.
Just as the strong structure of the internet relies on a distributed topology, labour in the network society paradigm is related to distributed and decentralised communication. In a fast-growing world characterised by global connections, where time and space are becoming increasingly virtual, it’s necessary for communication and decision-making to occur swiftly. It simply isn’t effective for one party to command a large group and this dynamic is changing the workforce as we know it.
The German army in the second world war was the first large-scale organisation to consciously decentralise the decision-making process. Instead of one divine ruler calling the shots, this power was effectively outsourced to leaders of small teams.
The German frontline were given the power to override their initial instructions. Their speed of frontline communication was unprecedented and influenced a fundamental conceptual shift to distributed communication in the labour force. Boyd argues that nowadays it is necessary for the military to shift decision-making to nodes, for example tanks. He says the most important element of responding to conflict is reaction time.
Although it wasn’t a conscious thought back in the 1800’s, the logic of decentralisation has been influencing society for centuries. It all comes back to coordination and control. Local decision-making is required to achieve a free information flow. With the growing instance of the network society paradigm, decentralisation is playing an increasingly important role in the workplace, as well as in wartime scenarios. As we dive into the future, and our population and digital capabilities expand, decentralisation is sure to play an even greater role in the labour force and society in general.